Fulbright College and IT Student Workers Team Up to (Re)solve Classroom Tech Problems

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The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is taking tech support to the next level by partnering with Information Technology Services on an initiative to provide on-call support staff for the college's classrooms — resulting in a smoother start to the semester and benefits to both students and faculty.

Top-tier student workers from IT Services were put through a rigorous training program over the summer to recognize and resolve classroom technology problems. These students are now patrolling the halls of Fulbright College's classrooms, proactively monitoring technology and ready to respond quickly to ensure faculty are able to focus on instruction.

"Classroom support can be stressful. Even a five-minute delay means that 10 percent of instruction time for that class is lost," said Chris Clanton, assistant director of technology for Fulbright College. "The students have a can-do attitude and are forming relationships with the faculty they serve. So far, this has been the smoothest start to a semester that I've experienced in my eight years at the U of A, and I attribute it to our student team."

Fulbright College is the largest college at the University of Arkansas and has more than 200 instructional spaces. The students work in shifts throughout the day to ensure there is continuous coverage while classes are taking place. Each student is assigned a cell phone so they can be notified of problems within their zone from the college's central help desk. 

Clanton said the program is also a valuable, hands-on learning experience for the student workers.

"Each day we go into different classrooms to make sure everything is working before the professor arrives and assist them with any questions about the systems," said Everett Porchia, a participating student who is majoring in biology. "This program teaches us problem-solving, public speaking and technology. It is fun to interact with different professors and get to know all of them."

Bhabtosh Kumar, a participating student and computer science major, said, "The best part of the job is the satisfaction one achieves after helping instructors to have a fluid experience with classroom tech. The classroom tech team is like a well-knit family, where people go out of their way to help each other."

Murali Arkatavemula, also a computer science major, agreed, and added, "Interacting with professors and explaining how to use the classroom technology is my favorite part of this job."

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz praised the program and the cross-disciplinary colleagues who initiated the Classroom Support Team and student worker project.

"This is a success story in the making," he said. "This project has created more good on-campus jobs for students; our faculty have more IT support. The partnership between IT Services and Fulbright College is exactly the kind of innovative solution-finding that will see us achieve our university's strategic priorities — and provide positive and meaningful work experiences for students, which contributes to student success. I'm hopeful we can find more on-campus opportunities to employ student workers."

Clanton said that due to the early success of this collaborative initiative, he thinks the expansion of this kind of tech support could also benefit other colleges on campus in their own classrooms.

"There has already been a noticeable improvement in response times to instructors in need of support during class, and problems have even been caught and resolved before they could occur in the classroom thanks to these students' extensive training, knowledge and collaboration on support issues," Clanton said. "The biggest benefit is their proactive testing of equipment between classes. We stressed that during training by creating problems and having the students troubleshoot them on their own."

In addition to the Classroom Support Team, Teresa Waddell, director of technology for Fulbright College, said the collaboration between the college and IT Services has also expanded to include adding consistent, clear labeling to all classroom computers to help faculty troubleshoot and get in touch with the tech support team quickly when issues arise.

"This partnership is a true collaboration, with all of us unified to provide excellent support and deliver a user experience that aligns with our priorities of student success, innovation and faculty excellence," she said.

Waddell credits colleague Paige Francis, the university's associate chief information officer for shared services, with creating the environment for a project like this to succeed and for bringing the team involved in this initiative together.

Francis, in turn, credits Clanton's solid recommendation stemming from his leadership of an AchieveIT Classroom Technology workgroup, comprised of cross-campus school and college representation.

"At the University of Arkansas, we watch our esteemed research faculty experiment and embrace fail-forward initiatives on a continuous loop," she said. "It also makes sense for our technology areas, while striving to provide a consistent teaching and learning experience with all campus technology, to try new ways as we right-fit service levels. And what better school to pilot an effort like this than within Fulbright College. If a program scales to fit arts and sciences, we say 'next!'"

The Classroom Support Team includes:

For more information, or to find out how to participate in this program, contact Paige Francis at paige@uark.edu.

Additionally, IT Services is hosting a CIO Chat at noon Tuesday, Oct. 17. Find out more on the IT Services website at its.uark.edu


Chris Butler, director of communications
University Information Technology Services
479-575-2901, chrisb@uark.edu

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, liwag@uark.edu


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